In 2011, the Arab Spring hit its zenith in the streets of Cairo when hundreds of thousands of youth and pro-democracy activists upended the social order, cast off a dictator and declared the start of a revolution based on the simple but radical notion that they would no longer remain silent or allow their dignity as citizens be thwarted by a repressive regime that forbade their right to assemble, protest, or dissent.
On Sunday, however—as the start of that hopeful revolution approaches its third anniversary—a new law effectively banning protests and granting the military-backed secret police "carte blanche" in Egypt was signed by interim President Adly Mansour.
Exemplifying the dashed hopes of the pro-democracy, the law bans all public assembly of more than 10 people without government approval and requires would-be protesters to seek seven sepearate permissions and notify authorities three days in advance of any proposed gathering. Further, the law grants security agencies, like the military-backed secret police, the right to prohibit any public gatherings, demonstrations or meetings if deemed a "threat to public order."
Following the release of an earlier draft, international watchdog Human Rights Watch noted the law "effectively give[s] the police carte blanche," saying it "mandate[s] the police to ban all protests outright and to use force to disperse ongoing protests.”
The law replaces a three-month "state of emergency" which granted security forces sweeping, and often violent, powers to quell protests following the July ouster of elected president Mohammed Morsi.
"The law is labelled one that regulates protests rights, but in essence it is regulates the repression of the right to protest," said Bahy Eddin Hassan, head of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, one of the local groups that campaigned against the law. He added that it is "giving a cover to justify repression by all means."
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The Associated Press reports:
Rights groups say the law also gives police unrestricted use of birdshot to put down protests, omitting an article that prohibited the use of force in excess.
Penalties in the law range from seven years in prison for using violence in a protest. It calls for one year in prison for covering the face in a country where many women wear full-face veils. It calls for a similar prison sentence for protesting in or around a place of worship.
The law sets fines of $44,000 for being violent at a protest. It sets fines of $1,500 for protesting without a permit, a hefty sum in Egypt, where the minimum monthly salary for public employees has finally been raised to 1,200 Egyptian pounds ($175).
"This law brings Mubarak's era back," said Gamal Eid, the director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.
The crackdown comes a week after police fired teargas at protesters with the burgeoning Third Square movement in Tahrir Square, where the demonstrators commemorated the two year anniversary of the 2011 massacre by rallying against both the ruling "military junta" and deposed Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, who they say together "betrayed" the revolution.